From the butterflies in your stomach when you’re crushing on someone to the anxiety you feel about life after high school — every emotion can be heightened when you’re a teen.
Sometimes even minor inconveniences can make you feel as if the world is ending, which is how it was for 19-year-old Iman Vellani.
But there was one thing she didn't have to worry about: what she was going to do next. Her future was Ms. Marvel.
Before the end of her senior year, Vellani had gotten the news she was going to star as Kamala Khan, Marvel's first Muslim superhero to headline her own comic, in the new Disney+ show.
For Vellani, whose childhood was spent reading comics and watching Marvel movies, this was a dream come true. But her new reality as a star in the Marvel Cinematic Universe still feels surreal.
"It's like when you walk into a room that you're not supposed to be in, but no one kicks you out. That's what's happening here," she tells NPR's All Things Considered.
Scheduled to premiere Wednesday, the show follows Khan, a Pakistani-American 16-year-old from Jersey City who spends her free time making online videos about the Avengers – and soon discovers she has powers of her own.
Like her character, Vellani's parents emigrated from Pakistan, and the actress is happy to see – and be part of – a superhero show that represents her culture and community.
Vellani discussed the filming of Ms. Marvel, how it helped her get back in touch with her roots and why representation in TV and film matters.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
On how filming Ms. Marvel helped her reconnect with her heritage:
I was born in Pakistan, and we moved to Canada when I was 1. But my parents really did try to make me as connected with my culture and religion as possible because they were in touch with that part of themselves. But growing up in Canada and being so enamored by American pop culture and Hollywood, I was super dismissive of being Pakistani. It was never something I saw value in up until filming the show, where my eyes were opened. I was meeting so many Muslims and South Asians that are so in touch with their roots, and that really made me go back and reconnect with mine. It's so cool [that] I can kind of find myself again.
On what it means to have Kamala Khan as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe:
Marvel is one of the most accessible franchises in the entire world, and film and TV totally shape how we see people in this world. I think it's so wonderful to show a child of immigrant parents who's proud of their culture and doesn't neglect it. I think it's great that we're showing Muslims on screen having fun. Every time you picture Brown people, it's either they're super serious or they're a terrorist. So it's really great that we can bring some humanity to this culture.
On what advice she would offer other teens:
I really think it's important to find a passion and explore it. You don't have to have everything figured out at 16. You're not supposed to. And I think young people should hopefully be comforted by Kamala as a character and see that even a superhero doesn't have her life figured out.
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